Experts point to the 2nd 1 or 2 when the comet’s closest approach to Earth is the most auspicious time, but – with binoculars or a telescope – you can probably spot it now.
Comets are large bodies of dust and ice. They orbit the Sun in elliptical orbits, speeding up as they approach perihelion (an object’s closest passage to the Sun), and slowing down somewhat as they retreat to the farthest reaches of the Solar System.
Every comet has its own period, or the time it takes to complete one orbit and begin a new one. Short-period comets can pass the Sun once every 200 years or less. Said comets don’t travel very far out in the solar system (usually only to Kuiper beltor a region directly behind Neptune), and begin their return journey faster.
Other “long-period” comets take up to 250,000 years to revisit the center of the solar system. These intrepid bodies travel on orbits that take them to the far outskirts of the system – often 50,000 times farther than short-period comets. These long-period comets form the Oort Cloud, or a band of cometary debris at the edge of the solar system.
A comet’s frozen core, known as the nucleus, is typically less than 10 miles across. That’s about the size of a small town or the volume of a single extremely large mountain.
Comets warm up as they approach the sun. This will remove some of the ice in gas. When gas escapes from the comet, it can carry dust with it. The combined speck of gas and dust engulfs the comet’s nucleus in a plume known as a “coma,” and then streams away in a gently curving tail.
A second wake, known as the “ion tail,” which is tied to solar ultraviolet radiation, causing electrons to jump out of the coma, always points directly away from the Sun because of the “solar wind.”
What is Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) all about?
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by two astronomers on March 2, 2022. They used the Zwicky Transient Facility, which consisted of a highly sensitive camera attached to the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California’s Palomar Mountain Range.
At that point, it was orders of magnitude too dark to be seen with the naked eye (or even with ordinary telescopes). By November it had brightened to the point where it was almost visible to the highest quality binoculars from dark areas. It has been found to have a period of approximately 50,000 years.
C2 or diatomic carbon (picture two carbon atoms bonded together) is believed to be present in the comet’s head. When excited by incident solar radiation, it emits photons (packets of light) with wavelengths we see as green.
Where has it been all this time?
In a country far, far away. Until comets close in on Earth and become bright enough for mankind’s most light-sensitive technology to detect a “new” unknown object in the night sky, we simply cannot know of their existence.
Catch a glimpse of the comet from central Virginia this morning. 150″ exposure time – taken between downpours. Chances of seeing this with the naked eye are increasing sharply over the next week!
C/2022 E3 ZTF
Canon RP, 400mm
Mineral, VA 1/21/23 5:30 p.m pic.twitter.com/f4aSi2Tb9t
— Peter Forister ❄️💨❄️ (@forecaster25) January 21, 2023
Viewers in the northern hemisphere can face north in late January or early February. However, it is estimated that the comet will be just a tad brighter than magnitude 6, which astronomers call “barely visible.” This will be complicated by the waxing crescent moon, which will peak on February 2nd. 5.
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of its distant and subdued glory, find a dark spot isolated from city lights. Binoculars will probably do the trick, but you’ll also need a little patience. A telescope would provide the clearest view.
Darker skies due to this weekend’s new moon may allow for viewing opportunities, but likely not with the naked eye.
In a few weeks, the comet will disappear from our skies just as it appeared — with little fanfare. Based on its trajectory, the comet was estimated to have a period of 50,000 years. However, there are simulations that suggest it could “escape” the solar system and essentially escape the sun’s gravitational forces, which could mean it will never return — or at least won’t appear to millions of people Years.